Here’s a Fact from “The Rubber Room,”

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Steven Brill’s must-read in The New Yorker: 99% of all NYC teachers in 2001 received a “satisfactory” performance rating. Is there any other industry where 99% of workers receive satisfactory evaluations? (Sheltered workshops don’t count.)

To be fair, Joel Klein became Chancellor in 2002 and since then, writes Brill, “unsatisfactory ratings for tenured teachers have risen from less than one per cent to 1.8 percent.” So now only 98.2% of teachers in NYC educate students in a satisfactory manner.

Much of the education reform agenda focuses on measuring and differentiating teacher performance in relation to student achievement. How do we square that principle with a system constructed – through contractual language, culture, historical precedent – on a bulwark of effacing differences among teachers? It’s the teacher unions’ homogeneous widgets versus the education reformists’ heterogeneity.

That’s the irony: the unions should be in a lather about the demeaning comparison of teachers to widgets. But, instead, the leadership of the NEA and the UFT weld themselves to the widget analogy (coined in New Teacher Project’s “The Widget Effect”) by resisting any attempt to measure difference. Brill describes the NTP report, which assesses the damage wrought by an industrial model union and a cowed public education system:

“Our schools are indifferent to instructional effectiveness,” the study declared. Under the subhead “All teachers are rated good or great,” it examined teacher rating processes, and found that in districts that have a binary, satisfactory-unsatisfactory system, ninety-nine per cent of teachers receive a satisfactory rating, and that even in the few school districts that attempt a broader range of rating options ninety-four per cent get one of the top two ratings

In other words, teaching has become a profession where output is irrelevant.

Here in New Jersey, the media recently trumpeted Lucille Davy’s pronouncement (see here) that almost 100% of N.J. public school teachers are “highly qualified” and, indeed, this is one of the mandates of No Child Left Behind. But all Davy’s done is promote the perception that teacher competency is linked only to eligibility, not performance, playing right into the union leadership’s demeaning mantra that teachers are interchangeable cogs. Once you have your diploma and have passed the Praxis test, you sit out three years waiting for tenure. Mission accomplished.

It’s not at all clear that performance before tenure is awarded is relevant anyway. In NYC, reports Brill, 97% of all teachers received tenure in 2002. In New Jersey, there’s a bill in front of the Assembly (Bill 4142) that would give non-tenured teachers the right to arbitration upon dismissal. In other words, even before a teacher has tenure, he or she can’t be let go without the school district going to court even if performance evaluations are unsatisfactory. In some ways, it’s a perfectly logical corollary of the current system.

Albert Shanker (who seems to be getting quoted a lot these days) once said, “When school children start paying union dues, that ‘s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” He was just being honest about union priorities. No shame, no blame. The problem is when the a state government — aw, heck, let’s use N.J. as an example — is either so beholden, cowed, or co-opted by the NJEA that the school children’s interests aren’t represented by anyone.

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